By Elisa Stone
My first time in Florida, I sojourned with my partner to St. George Island, “The Forgotten Coast” she remembered from blissful childhood summers spent near sparkling sand and turquoise waves. When we arrived it wasn’t quite so forgotten, but still beautiful. I worried how we, a same-sex vegan couple, would be received by the locals. My first lesson came at the beach. We were sunbathing, half-dreaming to the sound of surf and gulls. Suddenly I heard screeching, an unmistakable distress call. I arose and saw a young seagull entangled in fishing line, fighting to remain above water. As it struggled and cried, the line tightened. To my surprise, a group of local fishermen sprinted away from their poles and beer cooler, charging to the aid of the bird. My partner and I ran to help. As Cara held the distraught creature, one of the men cradled its wings; another carefully untangled the line. “Come on, Baby,” he said. “It’s gonna be all right.” When they had cut the line, the fishermen set the bird gently afloat. We worried whether it could still fly. “Come on, Baby,” they chanted. “Fly!” Baby did. I was awed by their compassion. They couldn’t have cared less that the couple helping them was gay. I recognized something within each of us that cannot abide the sight of a captive being.
Fast-forward to Utah. I’m at Lagoon, because I’m a mom; it’s a company outing, and my son loves it here. He’s only a toddler, so we stick to the kiddie rides, including the train. It’s slow and predictable, a welcome respite through the trees. Hidden among them is a zoo. The train traverses the zoo so riders have something to gaze at. Seeing caged animals distresses me. Worst is the Siberian tiger. Watching this elusive creature, that in the wild would never allow himself to be viewed by human eyes, tread behind the bars of his enclosure, I am unable to feel anything but anguish.
Consider this: In the wild, Siberian tigers roam 620 miles of mountains in the Russian Far East. The tiger’s cage at Lagoon allows it to cover approximately 20 feet. In the wild, this tiger is an alpha hunter, known to prey on bears and wolves. Here he will have no reason to exercise his stealth, his incisive night vision, or any of his strengths. He paces, loop after endless loop, the parameters of his concrete prison. He seems to have vacated his own body, his mind having collapsed on itself as there is nothing to do, or hope, or be. I resolve I can’t do this anymore. I cannot pay money to a company that imprisons animals, captive-born or not. The rides will have to wait until there is no more zoo. Later I learn Lagoon has incurred a number of Animal Welfare Act violations by the USDA. My son deserves better. In the meantime, we’ve discovered Snowbird — beautiful mountain scenery; the Alpine Slide, the zip rider, the tram, the bungee trampoline; great food; group deals; streams, wildflowers, and — best of all — the animals we see are birds soaring overhead, coyotes passing through the shadows of aspens, chattering squirrels darting among branches of towering pines. This is a place I can share with my son.
I would ask you to do the same. Decisions we make as consumers impact our world. When planning your company or weekend outings, please remember you can choose compassion and still create joyful memories. In the wise words of my Florida fishermen friends, “Come on, Baby. Come on!”